As summer comes to an end, many home gardeners start bringing their succulents inside in hopes of protecting them from the freezing cold. Many even invest in a set of high-quality grow lights to keep their plants thriving even when there isn’t enough sunshine to sustain their growth. However, can the use of grow lights affect a succulent’s ability to enter its much-needed winter dormancy?
Succulents can’t go dormant if kept continuously under grow lights. However, if grow lights are used to mimic natural daylight (by keeping them on for up to 12 or 14 hours a day and turning them off afterward), succulents might be able to enter winter dormancy as they usually would.
In this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about using grow lights to care for your succulents in the winter season. I’ll explain why the plants won’t go dormant if kept consistently under grow lights and how this practice can harm their overall health and longevity. Moreover, I’ll teach you a few tips and tricks on how to care for your succulents using grow lights.
Why Succulents Don’t Go Dormant Under Grow Lights
Keeping your grow lights on 24/7 is never a good idea, regardless of how dreary and dark some winter days might be. Before delving into the reason why succulents won’t go dormant if kept continuously under grow lights, I want to first explain why the phenomenon is so crucial in the first place.
The Importance of Dormancy
Winter dormancy is one of the most significant evolutionary advantages that plants have been able to develop, as it allows them to conserve and store energy throughout difficult winter months—energy which can then be used much more efficiently as the temperatures start to rise.
When going through this phase, succulents start preparing their soft tissue to better handle the dry air, freezing temperatures, and lack of nutrients that often accompany cold winter months. During winter dormancy, these plants conserve their energy by not attempting to carry out their normal growth processes; instead, they store it until they’re able to use it efficiently when spring comes.
I want to note that dormancy isn’t a phenomenon that exclusively occurs during winter; it’s a defense mechanism most plants (including succulents) use in stressful conditions. These less-than-ideal environmental conditions are usually encountered during winter; however, this isn’t always the case.
For example, during an especially hot and dry summer, you might notice your succulents entering dormancy. Luckily, there’s no need to panic, as this is simply their natural self-preserving response when external conditions become too extreme to handle.
As you can see, the ability to enter dormancy can be essential when it comes to a plant’s health and longevity, which is why you never want to mess with the process’s natural cycle.
How Grow Lights Prevent Succulents From Entering Winter Dormancy
If your plant were outside, you wouldn’t need to do much (if anything at all) to help your succulent get its winter sleep. However, when kept under grown lights, these plants can have a hard time receiving the external cues that usually trigger them to enter dormancy.
See, the primary cue that triggers plants to enter their winter sleep is the drastic decrease of daylight that occurs once winter comes. Therefore, it’s easy to see how shining bright grow lights over your succulents 24/7 can make them much less sensitive to the season change.
For this reason, it’s best to mimic natural daylight when using grow lights on your indoor succulents. Moreover, once the lights are turned off, ideally, you’ll want to move the plants to a dark, shadowy area inside your home to make sure the change in exposure is drastic enough for the succulents to detect it.
If you mimic natural sunlight closely enough, you’ll eventually notice your plant showing signs of entering dormancy. Generally speaking, dormant plants exhibit signs of weak, browning foliage that might even fall off entirely; however, the roots should still be healthy and growing.
How Long You Should Keep Succulents Under Grow Lights
We’ve already established that keeping your succulents under grow lights 24/7 is a surefire way to prevent them from entering their natural dormancy cycle. However, for less-experienced growers, it can be challenging to even determine the right time to bring their succulents in, let alone decide how long they should keep the grow lights on.
In this section, I’ll be explaining everything you need to know about getting the timing right. However, before moving any further, I’d like to note that grow lights are by no means a necessity when it comes to keeping your succulents safe and healthy throughout the winter months.
If you live in a climate with mild enough winters, your succulents might be able to survive on their own, even when left outside. However, keep in mind that these species require quite a bit of light to thrive, which is why using grow lights can help you ensure that your succulents are thriving even when external conditions are far from ideal.
Observe How Your Plants React To Grow Light Usage
You should be able to notice whether a succulent is getting enough light or not by observing its behavior and structural integrity. When these plants don’t receive enough light, they’ll gradually start stretching out and losing their shape. In addition, their usually bright colors will start looking duller.
Use Grow Lights Indoors After Temperatures Drop
If you live in a colder climate, you’ll want to bring your succulents inside as soon as the temperatures drop below 40°F (4.4°C). Afterward, if they start showcasing the symptoms mentioned above, you might want to bring in a set of grow lights to help the plants regain their strength and structural integrity.
Grow Lights Should Mimic Natural Daylight
With grow lights, it’s always best to turn them on and off occasionally to mimic natural daylight. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to keep them on for no less than six hours and no more than 14 hours a day to ensure that they thrive while not messing with their natural dormancy cycle.
I highly recommend timing your grow light usage and never exceeding the limits mentioned above; otherwise, you risk severely damaging your succulent.
How To Care for Succulents Under Grow Lights
Caring for succulents under grow lights doesn’t have to be as challenging and time-consuming as you’d think. By following a few simple tips and tricks, you’ll be able to keep your plant healthy and thriving all throughout winter with little effort.
Here are some tips on how to care for succulents under grow lights:
- Invest in high-quality grow lights that don’t run too hot. Grow lights are the last piece of equipment you’ll want to skimp on. Think about it this way: you’ll be using them for more than a dozen hours a day while keeping them in close proximity to your meticulously-grown plants, and cheaply-made varieties can sometimes run so hot they end up burning your succulents.
- Keep the grow lights as close as possible to your succulents. As mentioned in the previous tip, grow lights should be located in close proximity to your plants—you’d be surprised how fast light strength can drop once you move away from its source. Therefore, if you don’t want to splurge on a full-on grow light system, I recommend keeping them as close to your plants as possible (without risking burning them).
- Mimic natural daylight. I’ve already explained the importance of this tip; however, it bears repeating. The only surefire way to optimize your chances of success is to mimic natural daylight as closely as possible. That way, you’ll keep your succulents growing and thriving without riesling off-putting their dormancy.
- Follow a strict watering schedule. While lighting is an essential component in a succulent’s growth cycle, watering shouldn’t be underestimated either. You’ll want to follow a strict watering schedule based on the requirements of the unique species you’re trying to grow.
- Invest in LED or fluorescent lights with a color temperature between 5000 and 6500K. While there might be some higher-end options that’ll also do an excellent job at keeping your succulents well-lit throughout winter, LEDs and fluorescents are some of the most cost-efficient alternatives that still do a remarkable job.
Succulents can’t go dormant if kept continuously under grow lights. However, if you mimic natural daylight using your artificial set-up, your plants will be able to continue their annual cycle as per usual. Dormancy is a phenomenon that significantly affects a plant’s health and longevity, which is why you’ll want to make 100% sure that your succulent goes through it.